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Frimpong-Boateng immortalised

On Tuesday, June 11, as Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng stood pondering the significance of this once-in-a-lifetime ceremony, he was heaving with emotions.

He had just witnessed the unveiling of a bust mounted in his honour by the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, which he once headed as Chief Executive, and the National Cardiothoracic Centre, the world-class monument which owed its very existence to his passion, foresight and never-give-up spirit.

This ceremony, which is often held in memory and honour of departed heroes of international and national stature, had sent him into immortality. The bust was his very image and he was alive to witness it!

So why was he fighting off those tears of emotion? After all, this was not the first honour he was receiving. Indeed, three-quarters of his multi-page CV is about honours heaped on him by the world.

But this ceremony was different; it was a first in many senses. Having swam in shark-infested waters at the two institutions which he either helped to create or modernised, he had least expected honour from them.

Achievement

On this particular Tuesday, memories, such as a tape recording, played back in his mind. In 1975, as the best candidate in the final examination of the University of Ghana Medical School, he won the Easmon Prize in Surgery.

Ten years later in Germany, he had performed the first of scores of heart transplantations (1985), becoming the first black person to have performed a heart transplant.

On December 5, 2001, the Soviet (CIS) Trained Doctors Association recognised him for ‘Devoted and Meritorious Service to Ghana’. The German Surgical Society conferred on him Honorary Membership in May 2011 and a year later, in 2012, the University of Ohio, Athens, USA, named him the African Hero.

Locally, the Millennium Excellence Award scheme adjudged him Personality of the Decade in December 1999. In the same year, he won the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Ghana, Marketing Man of the Year award and in 1998, he was recognised by the Ghana Civil Service for meritorious services rendered to Ghana.

All of the above honours, and others too numerous to list in a 1,000-word article, were for three overarching distinctive achievements: first, as the first Black person to have performed a heart transplant; second, for establishing Ghana’s first Cardiothoracic Centre in 1992 amid stiff opposition, particularly by the “system”; third, he had, as CEO of Ghana’s premier teaching hospital, succeeded in “taming the monsters” within and without, including coffin makers!

But, like every other human being, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng has had enemies, some of them his creation; many others born of envy, politics and professional rat-race competition in dangerous seas infested with sharks.

In facing professional opposition, he remembers only too well what his teacher and professional mentor, Professor Easmon, went through in his attempt to carve out a small corner within the Gynae Centre at Korle Bu for the treatment of heart diseases in 1964. He was criticised, sneered at and given names.

Establishing Cardio Centre

Rather than discourage him, the birth pains of Prof. Easmon’s heart unit prepared the young Frimpong Boateng to face his demons, 30 years later on his return home from Germany with his big dream to set up a cardiothoracic centre.

In addition to performing heart surgeries, his dream was a centre for training Ghanaian doctors in cardiology and (along with nurses), in intensive unit critical care. That dream started forming in his mind around 1981.

Thankfully, the PNDC bought into it in 1986 and 1992, Ghana etched its name in history with the opening of its National Cardiothoracic Centre. But it is one thing to establish a centre for treating cardiovascular diseases and another thing to make its service attainable for the poor.

Thus, he set up the Ghana Heart Foundation, with donor funds – the principal donors being ordinary people who had responded to the Professor’s appeal to donate GH¢20 per Ghanaian.

Out of this fund, the Foundation pays 50 per cent of the cost of heart surgery. These are the works for which the Professor has been remembered by society. It is almost impossible to overstate the impact and importance of Kwabena Frimpong Boateng to the global medical institution.

After the ceremony, I sought him out and asked if, in his opinion, the Cardio Centre was not being run down. Without hesitation, he replied, “Absolutely not.” He has high regard for the present Director, Professor Mark Tettey, who he says, is doing a good job.

“Seeing what he is doing now, I wish that he had been with us from the beginning.” For fuller details of how Professor Frimpong Boateng came to set up the centre now known for short as Cardio, readers are encouraged to get their hands on his first book, DEEP DOWN MY HEART. In it, you will discover steely determination and selflessness in a professional on a mission.

CEO of Korle Bu

How he became the CEO of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, his battle with his demons, including coffin makers, the walling of the entire hospital and the building of the new Administration, are tales of how legends are made. That account is published in his second book, TAMING OF A MONSTER.

That book goes beyond a compilation of statements of fact about his physical achievements. It is a textbook from which lessons in ingenuity, selfless leadership, foresight and prudent management of resources are learned.

He admires the work of the present team of professionals at Cardio. Professor Tettey and his team want to transform the centre into an institute. That’s no mean task but it is a task whose time has come.

For it to happen, they would need specialists in cardiology, including foetal cardiology, anaesthesia and X-ray.” He adds a word for Ghanaians, in general: “Medicine in general, and heart surgery especially, have moved on.

There are new forms of management such as key-hole surgery on the heart and lungs. Now these procedures can be done with minimal invasion techniques. The task is urgent, but these things take time.

What is needed is patience on the part of Ghanaians and the government’s intervention to secure the needed equipment and training.” Is Prof. on retirement? Officially, yes, as far as formal government work at Korle Bu is concerned, but he has not retired as a doctor or as a heart surgeon.

He is actively involved with two other hospitals in the country. One of them is the Providence Specialist Hospital at Achimota, Accra, a specialist hospital for surgeries of all major diseases but with heart surgery as the main speciality.

The other is the Frimpong-Boateng Medical Centre at Toase in the Atwima Nwabiagya South District of Ashanti Region which is also up and running. This centre, established with the collaboration of some German friends, is well on its way to setting up a College of Health Sciences to train heart personnel, among other fields of specialisation.

It has started with general nursing. As a writer, I will miss Prof. at Korle Bu. Sadly, I will never set sight on his wall clock – one of a kind. That clock has been so calibrated that the seconds, minutes and hour hands travel anti-clockwise!

Acts anti-clockise actions

Somehow, that is how I have come to know the personality of Professor Kwabena Frimpong Boateng: he thinks, reasons and acts anti-clockwise. For instance, not everybody will understand why, against advice from well-meaning friends, he found himself in politics. Perhaps, with the benefit of time, we have to appreciate that Providence wanted to use him to lift, even if slightly, the veil covering Ghana’s biggest failure: the fight against galamsey.

But he should be the first to admit that politics has not been the most glorious part of his life story. The part of his life that I wish the clock would go backwards 20 years is Frimpong Boateng as a crusading environmentalist.

As a journalist, curiosity drove me to his house 15 years ago where I saw his wife cooking on a gas stove: the gas coming into the stove was biogas, made from the garbage in the home!

When Prof. wanted to be the NPP flag bearer, he went around the country campaigning in a car powered by jatropha oil produced by himself. When Ghanaians were debating the usefulness of solar, and the fear that it was expensive, he encouraged a young engineer, Gideon Agyare, to light up Korle Bu with street lights powered by solar.

The mentorship relationship thickened and bore fruit, even to the benefit of Prof. himself. This young solar engineer converted Prof’s Mercedes Benz 280S into an electric car! Note, dear reader: this was long before the invention of Tesla or any electric vehicle.

After the unveiling last Tuesday (June 11), I asked Prof. what he had to say on an occasion like this. His words were as simple as they were touching: “Thank you, Ghanaians. Without your GH¢20, there would have been no Cardio. I owe everything to you”.

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